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Remember This? Southlake hospital's beginnings found in 1920s with young doctor's persistence

A struggle to meet the demands of a growing population has challenged Southlake Regional Health Centre, known as York County Hospital until September 2000, almost since it was first established . brings you this weekly feature about our town's history in partnership with Richard MacLeod, the History Hound, a local historian for more than 40 years. He conducts heritage lectures and walking tours of local interest, as well as leads local oral history interviews. You can contact the History Hound at

How many know the history of institutionalized medical care in Newmarket? Here is an overview of how we progressed from rooms in a local hotel to a modern facility called Southlake Regional Health Centre.

The Royal Hotel at the corner of Main Street and Millard Avenue was repaired after the fire of 1907 and, in 1911, operated as temperance hotel. The owner, A.W. Evans, set aside rooms to be used for convalescent patients and requested town council grant an allowance for light, water and taxes and to establish and equip the rooms as a hospital. This did not happen and the idea was abandoned.

Dr Lowell Dales, throughout his career until he died in 1966, had considerable foresight and promoted many social and industrial projects that firmly established Newmarket as the Hub of York County. When he finished medical school in 1918, specializing in obstetrics and surgery, he acquired the practice of Dr. Hutt, who resided in a large home south of the Christian Church. He married the only daughter of Dr. Joseph H. Wesley, whose offices and residence were north of the United Church. All doctors had their offices in their homes.

In 1920, when the population had reached 3,000, the young Dr. Dales became frustrated by the lack of medical facilities in town. At great inconvenience, critical cases had to be sent to Toronto. To alleviate this situation, he converted his home, beside the Christian Church, into a private hospital with 18 beds. His father-in-law, Dr. Wesley, helped with the supply of equipment. In 1923, 97 operations were performed there. This house is still there, just south of the Christian Church.

Difficulties sustaining the hospital financially arose and, in 1924, Dr. Dales appealed to the Board of Trade to undertake a public institution, with citizens contributing $5 as charter members and $100 for life members. A provisional board of directors was formed and provincial charter obtained under the name York County Hospital. The advantage in having a charter was to obtain a government subsidy of 50 cents a day for each patient.

Accommodation in the hospital was crowded and, in 1926, it was necessary to find larger quarters. Overcoming many difficulties and after considering several sites, the Wm. Cane property at the corner of Huron (Davis) and Prospect Streets was purchased. In 1927, plans were made to convert the Cane residence into a hospital with an addition on the north side. However, on Feb.14, 1927, the whole structure was destroyed by fire. Construction immediately commenced to erect an entirely new hospital having a 25-bed accommodation that is the nucleus of the present complex. In 1943, the H.S. Cane home, which was beside the main house, was purchased for a nurses residence. In 1943, the Davis family donated $50,000 for an addition to increase the bed capacity to 55 beds. It was built in 1945 and designated the Margaret Davis Wing.

A growing population and increased sensitivity to quality medical care in the post-war period imposed constant demand for increased hospital accommodation.  For many years, York County Hospital was the only hospital between Toronto and Barrie. Major expansions occurred in 1958, 1964 and 1975. Preliminary proposals were announced in October 1953 to double the size from a 58-bed capacity to a 110-bed facility. Overcrowding and a lack of adequate facilities created an urgent need for additional surgical, obstetrics, nursery and laboratory space, as well as related services such as a kitchen, cafeteria and laundry. The estimated cost was pegged at $600,000 of which $125,000 would be provided by provincial grants, leaving $475,000 to be raised by the hospital board headed by chairman K.M.R. Stiver and vice-president W. A. Spear.

A fundraising campaign was launched on an entirely volunteer basis for a three-storey addition. The first sod was turned on the south side of the hospital on March 2, 1955 and was opened March 25, 1956 with a 113-bed capacity. During 1955, 7,896 patients were admitted, an increase of almost 4,000 in the year, including 1,100 births. This addition was a stop gap expedient to cope with the rapidly growing population, combined with an advancement of medical science, introducing new types of equipment and specialized facilities.

The administration of the hospital since 1927 was by the superintendent of nurses and volunteer board of directors. By mid-century, cost escalation and financial burdens were well beyond the capabilities of the volunteer board to manage. In January 1959, Mr. W.W. (Al) Roeder was appointed chief administrator, negotiating provincial funding and guiding the affairs of the institution through many subsequent improvements and complex expansions until he retired in 1987.

Since its beginning, the hospital has served the area from Sutton, Keswick, Bradford, Schomberg, Aurora and King City with Newmarket as the nucleus. New facilities have been built recently that have reduced the range of the area served. On Jan. 1, 1971, regional government was introduced, increasing the population of Newmarket to 17,732.

Urban sprawl and the baby boomers’ impact increased critical shortages in hospital accommodation. By 1960, the hospital’s requirements had doubled. In May 1962, a building permit was issued for a 253-bed, six-storey addition, costing $3.3 million, which would start construction in July of that year on the east side of the existing buildings. At the same time, four houses on Prospect Street were demolished to make way for parking and utility areas. The official opening by Lt. Gov. Earl Rowe was held on March 15, 1964, providing ambulance quarters and emergency reception at the main entrance. The upper floors would contain intensive care, pediatric and psychiatric units.

Preliminary studies started in 1967 to plan further extensions and in March 1973, the go-ahead was given for a $10-million investment for a major project that more than doubled the hospital size. It was operating beyond its capacity in 1974 when 17,000 patients were admitted. Houses along Davis Drive, including the nurses residence and other former Cane family homes and houses on the north side of Grace Street were expropriated and demolished to make a large car park with an entrance off Roxborough Ave.

The large East Wing was officially opened Dec. 10, 1975 by Ontario Minister of Health Frank Miller. The cost was $15 million, including $3 million for equipment, adding 197 beds for a total of 420. An enlarged radiology, laboratory, respiratory departments, pharmacy and surgical suite were added with a special feature of a modern therapeutic pool, donated by a fundraising telethon sponsored by wrestling champion Whipper Billy Watson that provided $300,000. Again in 1987-88, he campaigned for a further $1.7 million for a CT-scan, preoperative clinic and ultrasound suite.

When Roeder retired as CAO in March 1987, he became the planning consultant for a long-range multi-million-dollar addition. The first priority was for more land and in 1989, all properties on the south side of Grace from Prospect to Roxborough were expropriated. In late 1990, economic recession set in, resulting in further action being halted and the occupants were allowed to stay. It was not until 1999 that the homes were vacated and in April 2000, Grace was officially closed, the buildings demolished and a new four-acre 250-car park completed by October. At the same time, the hospital was renamed Southlake Regional Health Centre, with some public reluctance.

This process has continued, and Southlake is soon to be a teaching hospital. We have the Stronach Regional Cancer Facility in recent years and plans are underway to move into the future with a world-class facility in place.

*From the files of George Luesby


This article was edited Oct. 2, 2018 to correct a mathematical error in the 1950s fundraising campaign total.